By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is number 1 in cases per capita in the nation for Covid-19. Governor John Bel Edwards has implemented a mask mandate across the state, closed bars, and continues to limit occupancy in restaurants. We are in Phase 2 of reopening for a few more weeks.
Meanwhile, schools are opening. This model looks very different from parish to parish. Most districts have delayed opening of school by a few days or a couple of weeks. Some districts are going virtual only for a period of time while others are using a hybrid model.
I’ve written a great deal about teacher anxiety, and maybe I need to just step away from the computer and the news for a while, because the anxiety is very real to me. What is intolerable to me, however, is the condescension I get over this. How dare anyone judge my feelings and fears. There are several factors that contribute to my fears of bringing Covid home from school to my family; absolutely nobody has the right to judge me for that.
There is a great deal of pressure on teachers right now to be silent about those anxieties, even to the point of reprimand from their administrators. This has not happened to me, but it has happened to someone I know. As teachers, we are expected to put on an enthusiastic face, all optimism and excitement, in order to quell the fears and anxieties of our students. I understand this, and it makes sense (well, not the reprimand). Teachers should never cause anxiety for their students on something like this! As professionals, we know this. Still, it doesn’t mean that in our personal and private lives, we don’t have that fear.
My district is one that is going to try the hybrid model. My day will begin at 6:55 in the classroom receiving students for breakfast, which will be delivered from the cafeteria. When they leave to go to their first class at 7:30, I will have to clean and sanitize the desks. I will have to clean and sanitize desks and computers between each class change throughout the day, as well as any high touch surfaces like door handles, pencil sharpeners, etc. I’ll need to ensure that students sit in the appropriate A/B desk assigned to them for the purpose of contact tracing should someone become infected. Students will eat lunch in my room, and we will have to sanitize desks after that, too. I’ll have to leave my room by 2:30 everyday (school ends at 2:15) so that the room can be cleaned and sanitized by the custodial staff with the foggers.
In between all of this cleaning, sanitizing, and care, I’ll have to somehow teach the standards of my ELA curriculum, and prepare and upload virtual lessons for the “at home” kids who will be in class the next day. At this point, that almost seems secondary, doesn’t it?
My plan is to do all work 100% digital; I’m going to avoid touching paper and passing papers around. We will do the majority of our work in Google Classroom. When I come home, I’ll leave my shoes outside, shower and change clothes immediately. Overreaction? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d rather be sure.
Louisiana, all across the state, has a very high community spread – it’s anywhere from 94% to 98%, depending on the day. Under the mask mandate, we do seem to be leveling off a bit and hospitalizations are down slightly. The trend is good. There are many, many people who oppose the mask mandate and simply refuse to do it; you’ll see them with masks hanging from one ear, pulled below the nose, under the chin….you’ve seen them. Maybe you ARE them. Whether you believe they work or don’t, just do it. Wear the mask. See if it helps.
As schools across the country have opened, Covid exposures are being reported. Sometimes as “outbreaks” when only a couple of kids have been exposed and are just fine, really. I mean, you have to read these things and make your own judgments. In the Atlanta school with the crowded halls and few kids wearing masks we all saw in that viral photo is reporting nine exposures. The school is closed for two days and is doing virtual instruction. There was no mask mandate in place for that district.
I personally know two teachers who have retired or resigned from our district because of fear of Covid. I am certain there are more. I’ve seen the comments on social media: “Good! Make room for younger teachers!” Well, no. One of these people IS a young, very gifted STEM teacher. The other is an experienced math teacher who is regarded as one of the top math teachers in our parish. These resignations are a loss to our profession.
So, going forward, I think the point is this. We need to be tolerant of each other’s fears and anxieties. This is all unprecedented and people have heath issues about which you may not be aware and are in no position to judge. We need to be a little patient with teachers too. Yes, it’s true that workers have been out there doing their jobs since March: law enforcement, heath care professionals, store clerks, etc., but as I’ve said before, teachers are a little different in that we are in a closed, unventilated room with up to thirty-three (sometimes more) students. Multiply that by however many classes, three in my case, and we are exposed to nearly 100 kids a day in close contact. It’s daunting.
Be patient with us teachers. Be kind. Be helpful. If your kids are sick or exposed, keep them home.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.